Florida Faceoff: The Better Team Lost
Football is an unpredictable game; 22 players fly around the field chasing after an oblong-shaped ball that takes some funny bounces. Sometimes, crazy things happen, and occasionally, the better team loses. That’s what happened on Saturday. Florida was unlucky, made a few big mistakes and lost by five points.
It is hard to definitively say that one team is better than the other if the final score is that small. Seven points is the result of only one play. In a game with more than 100 plays, two teams could play evenly for 99 plays, and on the last play, one missed tackle, block or tipped pass could decide the outcome. Does that one play make the winning team definitively better than the losing team? It does in the record books, but not in the abstract. Wins by seven points or less often include an element of luck.
There are more plays than points in a football game, and a better indicator of deciding the superiority of teams is understanding which team won the most plays in a game. Furthermore, the best ways to see this is through drive charts and yardage totals. For instance, check the second-quarter drive chart (requires a click after loading the link) and tell me who you think has the better team.
During the majority of plays on Saturday, the Gators outplayed the Hurricanes. The Gators had 201 more total yards than the Hurricanes and held the ball for 16:40 minutes longer. Per @AlligatorArmy, “On the 51 plays that weren't Phillip Dorsett's 52-yard TD catch or Herb Waters' 36-yard catch and run, Miami averaged 2.43 YPP vs. Florida.”
There is another part of football that is simply a game of chance: fumble recovery. While forcing fumbles is a skill (see Tyrann Mathieu) recovering fumbles is all about luck. Footballs have a funny shape, they bounce in funny ways. Historically, teams recover 50 percent of fumbles. It’s practically a coin flip. During the Florida-Miami game, the Gators fumbled the ball three times and recovered none of them. If the Gators had recovered one fumble, they would have been unlucky; they recovered none.
Some may argue that those three fumbles can’t swing a game. Just how different would the game have been if the Gators recovered Trey Burton’s fumble in the red zone, and the Gators faced second down inside the 15-yard line instead of UM possessing the ball? What if one of the Florida linemen had fallen on Jeff Driskel’s fumble in the fourth quarter and the Gators were able to punt instead of giving Miami the ball and an easy touchdown inside the 10-yard line to seal the game? Those plays swung the game.
Bad luck isn’t the only reason the Gators lost, though it is a big reason. Florida also showed poor offensive execution in key moments. Many disastrous plays for the Florida offense were results of poor pass blocking. Tackle Tyler Moore let his man get through to Driskel too many times, especially on third down. However, the weight of the loss falls on Driskel’s poor decision-making. It is the same old story for Driskel: The bad throws he decided to force in the red zone overshadowed his solid play throughout the day (complete with two great throws on the Gators’ last scoring drive). Driskel’s interceptions weren’t the results of tipped passes or freak incidents, but occured due to overthrowing his man and throwing the ball into tight coverage. In a game that the Gators had to fight to stay alive, these poor throws killed them.
The Miami Hurricanes capitalized on Florida’s mistakes, but they weren’t the better team. Despite five turnovers, the Gators’ defense managed to keep Florida in the game. After Miami went up 14-6, the Hurricanes netted a total of 36 yards on 11 drives (per @AlligatorArmy). The defense showed that it is still one of the best units in the country, and Dominique Easley still requires a double team, but the defense couldn’t overcome all the turnovers. Florida is the better team, but Miami made the big plays. If the Gators had been luckier, or if Driskel had protected the ball better, Florida would have won.
Florida fans can bemoan that the better team lost, yet Hurricanes fans can point to the scoreboard. That’s football.